Wednesday, August 20, 2008

1984 - There and back again: A Hump Day Hmm

Julie recently reflected on some ways in which the climate of the USA today isn't all that different from the way it was 24 years ago, and ended by posing some related questions for this week's Hump Day Hmm:
For those of you who don't recall (or weren't born yet) in 1984 Democrats Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro challenged Republican incumbents President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush. It was unprecedented: a ticket with a woman. The nation was sort of flummoxed, and everyone was talking about it, a lot...

Once Mondale secured the nomination, he selected Ferraro as his running mate, and the Woman Question took center stage, despite repeated efforts to make it about experience and qualifications...

Reagan retained his office in a landslide win. It wasn't even close.

What happened?

That's a long story, but since you asked me, I'll tell you I think it was the Woman Question and the Economics Question.

Again, you may not remember (or have been born yet) but I recall the 70s in vivid technicolor. I remember both energy crises (oh yes, we had the same energy crises back then, and what did we do? DRILL HERE DRILL NOW and release reserves---now how's that working as a long-term plan, my friends??). Who here remembers being assigned days you could get gas at gas stations because supply was so low? By license plate number. Who remembers that being a half a day to a day errand, sitting in the long lines, waiting for your turn at the pump, praying they didn't run out before you got there? Oh yeah, those were the days. 1979. Loads of fun.

And then what happened? Big recession. Terrible recession.

So Reagan came in and applied Reaganomics. Then the US recovered and gained a robust economy. (Note: Just because those two sentences followed one another doesn't mean I buy that the first resulted in the second.) So in 1984 we were fat, happy, and feeling a little cocky with our strong economy...

What we weren't feeling was kindly disposed to Mondale, his female running mate, and his liberal economic, diplomatic, and equality policies.

So he lost. By a lot. So back to the woman and money questions.

I think Mondale lost because he chose a female running mate. A lot of people pressured Ferraro to step aside, and in my memory she understandably got a little belligerent about it. That I respected. In my memory, one day, she said she would, if it helped the party. That crushed me. I had no idea what she went through but I could imagine, but I so wanted her to pave that way.

Also, I think he lost because he told the truth. He said taxes would have to go up. He said we'd have to make friends with the Russians. He said we had to reduce the deficit. He did not sing sunshine up voters' asses. He did not say what they wanted to hear (exclusively). He did say what he thought. He said what needed to be said. And it cost him the election.
(A lot of quoting there, but I love Julie. I can't help it.)

And then she asked:

So what can we take from the election of 1984 and what has come since then? Weigh in. Do you think we've made much progress--enough progress? How do you think the racial and gender factors in 1984 replayed out in 2008?

At least tell me where you were in 1984 (even if it was "twinkle in Mom and Dad's eyes"). (Or) choose a time that was an awakening for you, select a year or an event that year, that you invested in, although you might not have been quite old enough to understand it fully, and that affected you down the line. Or write about 1984, the election or your life then.

I have some pretty vivid technicolor memories of the 1970's myself, and they're not just about feathered hair and disco. I was in high school from 1978 to 1982, and as my friends were starting to get driver's licenses and cars, finding affordable gas for those cars was a big concern. Of course, back then "affordable" meant under $1.00 per gallon - but considering that just a few years earlier it had meant less than fifty cents, this was a major change. (Now? Woohoo, my husband bought gas for $3.99 a gallon today!) People had started to care about the fuel efficiency of the cars they drove, but they weren't terribly impressed with the "econo-boxes" coming on the market, and buying a "foreign" car was still viewed with suspicion. (That was before nearly every Japanese automaker had a plant in the US.)

The Equal Rights Amendment hadn't been ratified by enough states to become law yet, and this befuddled me. Why should anyone object to eliminating sex-based discrimination, as stated in the proposed law?

bulletSection 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
bulletSection 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
bulletSection 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

That was it. Nothing about unisex bathrooms or any of the other scare tactics that the amendment's opponents loved to bring up. But either those scare tactics worked, or not enough people saw why the amendment mattered; after all, women apparently were making a lot of social and political advances without it, weren't they? And it's still not law today.

During a speech-communications class I took in college that year, one of our assignments was a panel discussion on a controversial subject, and my panel's topic was abortion. Several students took an anti-abortion stance; my opinion was that the option of abortion needed to remain legal, so that it could be safe,  regulated, and accessible. I was asked if I was in favor of abortion. (I had just had a baby; when in the position to have chosen it, I didn't.) I said that regardless of value judgments, it was legal now - it had been so for a little over ten years - and taking away legal rights previously granted was never advisable, so why were we still talking about it?

When Ronald Reagan was elected to his first term in 1980, he took on a country that was still sorting out the many social changes of the 1960's and '70's, and was experiencing economic and technological changes as well. Reagan conveyed a sense of certainty and confidence in his beliefs about what was right for the country, and had a personal charisma that influenced many Americans to trust his direction and leadership. By the time he ran for a second term in 1984, the country actually had recovered a lot of ground - but on a shaky foundation. Taxes had long been considered evil, and the government turned heavily to borrowing the money to pay for its programs; this indirect form of financing made the cost of government less painful to individuals and, in my opinion, set the tone for the expansion of the debt-fueled, instant-gratification lifestyle that seems to be the norm now. If the government can live beyond its means, why can't we? Why think about how it's going to be paid for?

1984 was the first year I was old enough to vote in a Presidential election, and I didn't want to "throw away" my vote. Enough said. But I really think it's a shame that 24 years later, our country is still struggling with some of the same issues. In many ways it not only hasn't moved forward much, it's backtracked in a number of directions. Civil rights once granted have been threatened or taken back entirely, class divisions have grown (even though we still officially consider ourselves a "classless" society), and community consciousness has become less important that individual privilege. I think that attitude of concern for self over other is a big part of what's keeping us stuck - "yeah, nice idea, just don't inconvenience me/regulate me/expect me to pay for it." Sometimes being an adult means seeing past your own nose. And sometimes ignoring or neglecting what came before means you find yourself back in the same mess, and you're not sure how you got there or how to make sure you get out of it and stay out.

It's been a long day since that "morning" dawned in America in 1984. But whether it really was "morning in America" or not, it was a time when I was definitely thinking in "beginnings" mode myself. At the age of twenty, in the middle of that year, I became a mom. Every day with a baby is a day of firsts, and a new parent is filled with anticipation, awe, and anxiety. My world contracted during the latter half of that year as I focused on the new life I was responsible for, and my concerns became "domestic" in the most narrow definition of the word for some time to come. I went into the cocoon that many parents of young children find themselves in, and was out of touch with the world at large for awhile.

I've been back for awhile now, though, and sometimes I marvel at how far we've come. At other times, I marvel at how far we've gone in directions I wouldn't have anticipated back then - some good, others most definitely not - and at the ways in which it seems like we've barely moved at all.

1984 has a particular resonance for a few reasons, but if it doesn't for you, is there a year that does, and why - personally, and/or in the context of the world at large?


  1. Thanks for the compliment and oh you focused on the ERA. I know...WHY would you oppose it?

    And then yesterday in conversation my husband says "well, better not to say feminist, you knwo what that implies."

    I said, "what? what do you mean what that implies? a movement for equity for women? and that's a problem because...?"

    Oh...no, it was that bad PR campaign that women want superior rights, more than men, and we mustn't have that! Hence, the down with the ERA and feminism movement!

    In 2008!!!!!

    I agree, we've moved forward in some ways, changed in other ways that aren't really advancements, and stagnated or moved back in some really important ways. I guess one step forward two steps back.

    This is brilliant

    "Sometimes being an adult means seeing past your own nose. And sometimes ignoring or neglecting what came before means you find yourself back in the same mess, and you're not sure how you got there or how to make sure you get out of it and stay out."

    I can only wish Some People could *hear* that. really *hear* it and know it. Right now.

  2. Julie - Yeah, I wish the same thing, but I'm not hopeful that it will come to pass. Lack of historical consciousness, on both an individual and institutional scale, is one thing that drives me nuts, because I really think it's one reason things don't get better. Definition of insanity, anyone?

    I wish your husband wasn't right about what using the term "feminism" implies today, but unfortunately I think he is. How do we take it back?

    Thanks for such a great topic this week!

  3. I came of age in 1979, graduated from college and married in 1984, first baby in 1986. We hit the worst of Reaganomics; balancing rent vs. groceries, buying baby clothes from thrift stores and rummage sales, no insurance...I'm appalled at people today who don't recognize the similarities. Today's recession seems even worse.

  4. Daisy - We only had car insurance for a few years. We used to joke that we could get into a car accident but couldn't get sick. Not an ideal situation with a small child, but we didn't have much choice at the time.

    I'm with you. It floors me how people forget, or can't connect things. I wonder if our short-attention-span way of life has anything to do with it - but it's certainly frustrating.

  5. What a great post, Florinda! I do remember bits and pieces of the political and economic climate in 1984, but it was mixed in with much more important issues to an 11 year old: Michael Jackson catching on fire and the direction the space program was going.

    I really don't remember when I became more aware of what was going on around me in the political arena, but I do know how excited I was with the idea of a woman being in the White House. I remember too the ambivalence of the ERA, not quite understanding why so many people were against it. The threat of an attack by the Soviets during the Cold War was worrisome, especially with their boycott of the Olympics that year and I was especially confused about the status of Hong Kong.

    My dad religiously watched the news every night for at least 3 hours straight, the same stories being repeated over and over again on different stations. It was hard not to pick up on some of the world's troubles. I wanted to understand, and I had strong opinions about things I knew very little about.

    At home, my family struggled to make ends meet; my parents stressed the importance of education and encouraged me to be the best I could be.

  6. Literary Feline - Oh, that's right; 1984 was the year that MJ caught on fire. I don't think he was made of as much plastic then, since he didn't melt...

    I forgot about the Soviet Olympic boycott - one reason the USA's medal count was so high in 1984, I'm sure. Then again, my son was about a month old during the Olympics, so I was a bit distracted.

    And I STILL don't get the objections to the ERA, even all these years later.


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